The Hole In The Safety Net

by Jonah Shepp

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Weissmann looks at how welfare benefits for the very poor have shrunk over the past 30 years:

Looked at as a whole, the entire safety net has clearly gotten wider, even when you remove programs like Social Security retirement benefits, Medicare, and Medicaid from the equation. [Robert] Moffitt shows that per-capita spending on means-tested programs, such as food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, increased 89 percent between 1986 and 2007.

But Moffitt shows how that overall expansion masks key changes that have cut benefits for families with incomes that amount to less than 50 percent of the poverty line. Most important was the end of welfare as America knew it. In order to encourage more single mothers to enter the workforce, the Clinton administration eliminated the old Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which had served as an open-ended federal commitment to help poor parents. Its replacement, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, includes work requirements, and only gives states annual grants that don’t grow with inflation. As a result, welfare spending, which traditionally reached the poorest of America’s poor, has plummeted, and has been redirected to mothers who are employed.